Tag Archives: English

Weekly (No-)Book Club

Screen Shot 2018-01-27 at 9.14.18 AMYou May Want to Marry My Husband by Amy Krouse Rosenthal was one of the most widely read — and heartbreaking — essays ever to appear in the New York Times “Modern Love” column, which published it ten days before Rosenthal died of cancer this past March. The actress Debra Winger later recorded a podcast of the author describing her husband’s devotion and her desire for him to find new happiness after her impending death.

Screen Shot 2018-01-27 at 9.15.25 AMOn Tuesday afternoon, her words broke hearts again, this time among members of my weekly English conversation class. We read sections of the article aloud, listened to part of the podcast and then listened to another “Modern Love” podcast about how a woman dealt with her husband’s mid-life crisis.

This was a change of pace from some of the other articles I’ve assigned recently in my weekly class at the Ialoveni library for advanced English speakers who want to improve their reading and conversaton skills. Our previous selection was The School, a chilling 2007 article in which C.J. Chivers described a Chechan terrorist attack on a school in the Russian town of Beslan, which resulted in the deaths of at least 385 people.

Before that we read three essays by humorist David Sedaris, a Walter Isaacson article describing the science behind Mona Lisa’s smile and Atul Gawande’s article about how he and other physicians need to do more to help dying patients and their families. We’ve also discussed travel destinations, teenage anxiety and the linguistic implications of emojis.

Screen Shot 2018-01-27 at 9.15.49 AMI originally planned the class as a more conventional book club, where we might read Harry Potter novels or other full-length works likely to appeal to Moldovan readers. When I spoke with a Moldovan friend who runs an English-language center, however, he warned me students wouldn’t have enough time to read the books, which would also be expensive for them to buy. Screen Shot 2018-01-27 at 9.17.08 AM
He suggested I choose long articles instead, which the students could download or read online.

It was great advice. My students, who range from a Moldovan online journalist to an art student, are generally able to handle even the longer articles, and they come ready to share reactions and opinions that often fascinate me. Screen Shot 2018-01-27 at 9.16.25 AMOur discussion about the Gawande article, for instance, led to a great conversation about how our two cultures handle death, not only in medical settings but more generally.

For our class next Tuesday I’ve assigned an extraordinary Cincinnati Enquirer series on Seven Days of Heroin. If you’re in Ialoveni and would like to join the discussion, please come to the class. If you’re back in the States and want to participate, (16:30 locally; 9:30 a.m. Eastern time on Feb. 6), please let me know and I’ll try to include you online.


Oui. Da. Yes, Dinner

Can you say “dinner” in five languages?

That’s the challenge we faced last week when our host family welcomed some friends.


One guest was a Moldovan psychologist (below in the green blouse) who now lives in Paris. She speaks both French and English but her French boyfriend, who came with her, speaks neither Romanian nor English.

Champa and I try to converse with our host family in Romanian but often speak some English with them, especially with Alisa, who speaks English well. (That’s Alisa with Champa in the photo below.) The two of us also speak some Nepali, just like back home.

Our host family is fluent in both Romanian and Russian, like most Moldovans. When people visit, their conversation is often a mishmash of both languages.

IMG_7043In other words … well, yes: in other words. It made for an interesting dinner. I tried to speak French with the boyfriend (shown here, with the beard) since I studied it in high school and once spoke it fairly well. But it was frustrating. I understood much of what he said but sputtered in Romanian when I tried to reply. IMG_7046

Just to make the situation more confusing, Champa and I studied Spanish years ago, and she occassionally says por favor instead of vă rog here in Moldova.

So our dinner conversation was complicată, compliquée and complicated. As you can see, though, the food was delightful, as were the company and the conversation. We all laughed, toasted, ate too much and made new friends. It was a memorable evening of speaking and eating with many tongues.

Hearing Voices

I gave a talk here recently about black holes and “singularities within the framework of general relativity.”

No, not because I used to work as a science writer. I was just reading aloud a passage about Stephen Hawking, the famous British physicist, that appears in Moldova’s national textbook for eighth-grade English classes.


A fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Michelle McNeary, recorded me, as she’s recorded more than 20 other volunteers and, by long distance, her father reciting all 99 passages in this nation’s textbooks for grades five through nine. That’s Michelle in the top photo. She’s compiled the readings on a website called English for Moldova. It’s a great new resource for local students trying to improve their listening comprehension and pronunciation skills.

“The site features a huge variety of American voices and pronunciation,” says Michelle, an English education volunteer from California.


Peace Corps volunteers have been teaching English ever since they came to Moldova in 1993. Michelle and other English teachers, including Champa, work daily alongside local teachers. Many of the volunteers in the three other Peace Corps programs here — health education, small business and community development — teach English informally through clubs and community classes. I teach two groups myself, as well as a weekly computer club for teenagers.

Two previous volunteers, Tim Schneider and Sarah Ewell, worked with the Ministry of Education to rewrite the country’s English textbooks a few years ago. They also tried to produce accompanying audio recordings but weren’t able to finish that part of the project.


Michelle stepped into the gap initially to help a Moldovan partner teacher who’d been foregoing listening exercises with her students because she had no way for them to hear the sentences spoken correctly. Michelle developed a friendlier website structure and added features such as audio downloading. As a result, teachers and students can now go to the site or use their own device, click and listen easily while they read along.

“Part of our role here as English educators is to create resources that teachers and students can use,” Michelle says. “This project shows how much we want to provide assistance in whatever way we can.” The project has been a “highlight” of her service, she says, “and not one person hesitated when I asked them to read for it.”

Michelle, who graduated from the University of California, Riverside, will complete her Peace Corps tour this summer and return to her graduate studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterrey. I’m pretty sure she won’t be studying cosmology or quantum gravity there. I’ve already covered that for her.